By JB Clark
TUPELO – Tupelo Police Officer Joseph Maher was released from North Mississippi Medical Center Tuesday morning, eight days after being critically wounded in a shootout.
“I was encouraged, when I saw him this morning, at how well he was doing and how strong he was looking,” Police Chief Bart Aguirre said. “If they hadn’t made him sit in that wheelchair he would have walked out on his own.”
Maher was shot by a fleeing suspect when responding to a bank robbery on South Gloster Street Dec. 23.
Aguirre said the spirits of his officers were lifted when Maher left the hospital but they’re still grieving the loss of Sgt. Gale Stauffer, who was shot and killed during the same exchange of gunfire.
Lt. Marty Mask, who heads the Tupelo Police Department’s Adam Shift, said his shift went back to work Saturday but some of the officers still are recovering after responding to the bank robbery and losing an officer.
“We’re all just still getting things into perspective,” Mask said. “Some will be back to work (today) so we’re starting to get things put back together.”
Grief counselors from within the law enforcement community have been on hand and officers have been given time off to grieve and recover.
Mask said some members of his shift have used that time. “Some took extra time and we’re taking great care to make sure we’ll all fit for duty when we return,” Mask said. “Some of the shift made the scene and that takes a great toll.”
Mask said they will miss Stauffer’s presence on the shift. “He kept us all laughing. He was into politics and loved a good debate. He stayed current and could go toe-to-toe with anyone in Washington.”
Maher has been on Adam Shift since joining the department in September 2008.
Mask said Maher is a good Christian man with strong faith and the ability to help keep the shift focused and sharp.
Stauffer joined the department in November 2005 and was on Mask’s shift for a few years before moving to another shift to fill in. Stauffer rejoined Adam Shift at the beginning of the year when he was promoted to corporal.
The Maher family has requested privacy in the coming weeks while he recovers but once he gains his strength he will speak to the public.
Aguirre and Mask said the support of the community, especially the local law enforcement community, has been the biggest help through this tragedy.
“We had the Sheriff’s Office and Highway Patrol come in Friday and cover for our whole shift so we could take care of our fallen brother’s family and funeral,” Mask said.
Aguirre had a stack of letters of support and condolence more than two inches high sitting on his desk Tuesday morning and said those were only the letters he had received that morning.
He said that was the biggest help for him and the department.
“Sheriff Jim Johnson was by my side through the entire thing and the support of law enforcement has been so encouraging,” he said.
He also said the federal investigators told him they have never seen an outpouring of community support during a tragedy equal to Tupelo’s response over the past week.
The road to recovery will still be long for Maher and the department but Aguirre said the community can help with continued prayer and support as well as by giving to the funds set up for the families of the two officers at BancorpSouth.